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BBC/Blair Battle Timeline

As the American and British governments pointed to the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to make a case for war with Iraq, some say the American media took the government at its word and didn't dig deep enough to uncover the truth behind the intelligence claims. In Britain, a news report accusing the Blair government of inflating evidence of WMDs erupted into a scandal that shook the BBC, one of the most respected news organizations in the world, to its foundation. What can this battle between the British government and the BBC tell us about the dangers of political influence on independent journalism? Follow the links in the timeline to find more detailed information.

April-June 2002Ministry of Defence scientist Dr. David Kelly is consulted as the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is put together.
June 20: The Foreign Office submits draft chapters of the dossier.
September 2002Early September 2002: Prime Minister Tony Blair discusses the need to win English support for war against Iraq by releasing a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
September 3: Tony Blair promises to publish a dossier of evidence in the next few weeks.
September 5: Alastair Campbell chairs a meeting about the dossier at 10 Downing Street. Alastair Campbell says it needs a "substantial rewrite ... as per TB's discussion."
September 10: New draft of dossier is circulated. This draft contains what has become known as "the 45-minute claim" — an assertion, as expressed in the dossier, that Saddam Hussein's military planning allowed for "some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."
September 16: New draft of dossier is circulated.
September 17: Campbell shares draft of Blair's forward to the dossier. Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, sends an email saying the latest dossier contains no evidence of "an imminent threat".
  • Read Powell's email
    September 18: Brian Jones, a senior official in the Defense Intelligence Staff's assessments section, talks with Dr. David Kelly about the dossier.
    September 19: Kelly reviews the dossier with Jones and some of his analysts also greed that some of the new information in the dossier appeared questionable.
    September 20: Final version of dossier is distributed. It does not include suggested changes from Jones's staff (or Dr. Kelly).
    September 24: Tony Blair stands up in the House of Commons and raises the dossier aloft stating: "The threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. The history and present threat are real."
  • September 2002: Dossier pointers from Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell (PDF file 75KB)
  • Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - The assessment of the British Government
  • May 2003May 7: In a telephone call, Dr Kelly tells NEWSNIGHT reporter Susan Watts that the September dossier presented the facts "in a very black and white way".
  • Susan Watts' conversation with David Kelly
    May 22: Dr Kelly meets BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan at the Charing Cross Hotel in central London.
  • Gilligan's notes from the meeting
    May 29: Andrew Gilligan appears on the BBC'S TODAY program early in the morning. Among the contentions he makes in his report are that the government "ordered [the Iraq dossier] to be sexed up, to be made more exciting, and ordered more facts to be…discovered." The broadcast is not repeated.
  • Read a transcript of Andrew Gilligan's disputed report
  • June 2003June 1: Gilligan repeats the allegations in his column in the MAIL ON SUNDAY, with more details of the information given by his unnamed source.
  • Gilligan's MAIL ON SUNDAY piece
    June 2: NEWSNIGHT correspondent Susan Watts reports "a senior official" claimed the intelligence services came under heavy political pressure over the "45 minute claim."
    June 4: In his first weekly Q and A session after story breaks Tony Blair faces questions from the press about the accuracy of the Iraq dossier. Alastair Campbell writes a letter to Richard Sambrook, head of BBC News, asking whether Gilligan's story breached BBC's producer guidelines, which say the program-makers should be reluctant to rely on only one source.
    June 16: Andrew Gilligan is called to testify before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which was holding televised hearings about the decision to go to war. He tells the committee that his source was "one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier." Alastair Campbell again writes Sambrook asking if the BBC is going to launch an internal inquiry into how Gilligan's story got on the air.
    June 17: Information reaches the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence that Dr. Kelly said he had spoken with Gilligan and Watts. The Deputy Chief tells the Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defense.
    June 19: Andrew Gilligan appears before House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee again.
  • Read Gilligan's testimony
    June 25: Alastair Campbell appears before House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and defends the dossier and attacks the BBC.
  • Read Campbell's testimony
    June 26: Campbell writes to the BBC demanding an apology. Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, says it is "an unprecedented level of pressure from Downing Street."
  • Sambrook's response to Campbell
    June 30: Dr. David Kelly sends a letter to his immediate superior at the Ministry of Defense in which he admits to meeting Gilligan.
  • July 2003 July 3: Prime Minister Blair is informed of Kelly's letter
    July 4: Kelly's superior and the director of personnel at the Ministry of Defense interview him. The Ministry of Defence drafts a statement referring to Dr Kelly as "an unnamed official." Tony Blair meets with government advisers to discuss the situation.
    July 6: BBC governors give unconditional backing to Gilligan.
  • BBC governors' statement
    July 7: Prime Minister Blair discusses Dr. Kelly being Gilligan's source in a second meeting with government advisers. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee publishes its report into the Iraq intelligence dossier.
  • Foreign Affairs Committee Report
    July 8: The Ministry of Defence releases a statement saying an official has admitted speaking to Andrew Gilligan. The BBC's response says the description does not match Gilligan's source.
  • Ministry of Defence statement
    July 9: Head of the Ministry of Defence Geoff Hoon writes to Gavyn Davies asking him to confirm whether Dr. David Kelly is the source. The BBC refuses, but the Ministry confirms to journalists that Dr. Kelly is the official involved. Downing Street denies being the source of the leak.
  • BBC's response to Hoon
    July 10: THE TIMES, THE GUARDIAN and the FINANCIAL TIMES name Dr. Kelly as the source of Gilligan's allegations.
    July 15: Dr. David Kelly testifies before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in a televised hearing.
  • Kelly's evidence to the committee
    July 16: Dr. Kelly answers questions before the Intelligence and Security Committee with no cameras or reporters present.
  • Foreign Affairs Committee Report on Kelly's testimony
    July 17: Dr. David Kelly commits suicide.
    July 21: Lord Hutton is appointed head of an independent inquiry into the events surrounding Dr Kelly's death.
  • August 2003 August 11: Lord Hutton begins taking evidence about the circumstances surrounding Kelly's death.
    August 23: The Hutton inquiry releases some 900 documents submitted in evidence for public consumption on its internet site.
  • Read the evidence on the Hutton inquiry Web site
    August 28: Prime Minister Blair testifies before Hutton and takes responsibility for the decision-making process, which led to the exposure of Dr. Kelly.
  • September 2003 September 4: As the inquiry's first stage comes to a close, it emerges that senior officials believed the 'ownership' of the controversial dossier 'lay with No 10'.
  • Full text of Lord Hutton's closing statement
    September 15: BBC director general Greg Dyke gives evidence, saying Alastair Campbell attacked the BBC to "settle old scores", revealing he did not know about concerns over Gilligan's report and admonishing the reporter's contact with FAC members as "unacceptable."
    September 17: Gilligan apologizes for leaking Dr Kelly's identity and claims his allegation over the insertion of the 45-minute claim was a "slip of the tongue."
  • Transcript of Gilligan's cross-examination
  • January 2004January 5 2004: In an e-mail to staff, the BBC director general, Greg Dyke, said that there will be "no scapegoating within the BBC" as a result of the Hutton report.
    January 8: Tony Blair acknowledges during "Question Time" that he would have to resign if the Hutton report showed that he lied after denying authorizing the leaking of Dr. Kelly's name.
    January 28: Lord Hutton issues his report. The report clears Prime Minister Blair and his government of any deliberate attempt to deceive the British public over the threat from Iraq mentioned in September 2002 dossier.
  • Read the Hutton Inquiry Report
    January 29: Greg Dyke leaves his post as Director General of the BBC. He is followed by BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and reporter Andrew Gilligan.
  • April 2004THE GUARDIAN reports that BBC staff are still "being torn apart by Hutton fallout."
    April 2004According to THE ECONOMIST, "A related inquiry into intelligence failures, headed by Lord Butler, in July 2004 cleared the government of any deliberate attempt to mislead parliament. But it did suggest that Mr Blair was prepared to exaggerate what turned out to be fairly thin evidence to bolster the case for a war." Read the report.
    May 2005The British SUNDAY TIMES newspaper published the so-called Downing Street memo, dated 23 July 2002, on 1 May, after it was leaked by a former UK foreign policy aide. According to the BBC, "In the memo, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is quoted as saying Mr Bush had made up his mind to take military action even if the timing had not yet been decided. A second memo, published in June 2005, says UK ministers were told that they had no choice but to find a way to make the war in Iraq legal." Despite efforts by bloggers, the memos receive little attention in the U.S. press. Read the memo.

    More on the BBC/Blair battle and the Hutton Inquiry:

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